Long trips to try and find family

Samet picks up the phone

Samet traveled to Turkey to try to find his missing brother Ismail

While waiting for a delayed flight from Istanbul airport this week, Samet Yilmaz picked up the phone, pointing to a photo of rubble. He said that his brother, Ismail, was buried under it.

Samet lives in Bahrain, but joined dozens who made the journey to southern Turkey following a massive earthquake that killed thousands.

Like others, he believes he has a better chance of finding his missing brother if he sifts through the rubble himself.

Ismail, a 26-year-old supermarket cashier, was staying with relatives in Hatay province, on the Syrian border, at the time of the earthquake.

Others, including his brother-in-law, were taken from the building’s remains later that day, but Ismail has not been found, Samet said.

“I miss him so much. I came from Bahrain to Turkey to look for him. He is my one and only brother,” she told the BBC.

Samet described Ismail as intelligent and “shy around girls”. He said he was desperate for good news but felt there was “no help” with the search.

After arriving in Turkey, Samet waited hours in Istanbul for a flight to Adana in the south of the country before starting the hours-long journey to Hatay province.

“It’s so cold here. Life is hard,” he said in a WhatsApp message late Tuesday night after arriving in the earthquake-ravaged province.

Having nowhere to stay, he warmed himself by the fire all night while waiting for daylight to begin the search for Ismail.

Samet and Ismail

Samet and his brother Ismail

Samet is not alone. The BBC spoke to people from across Turkey and abroad who traveled to the earthquake-hit areas to search for their missing loved ones.

In the city of Antakya, men armed with pickaxes and crowbars sifted through the rubble of a collapsed building on Tuesday, looking for survivors. They told the BBC that they were family members of the building’s residents and had come from Istanbul to look for their relatives.

Medical student Aylin Pulat was unable to connect with several members of her family, including her parents, after the earthquake.

He is based in Mugla, more than 1,000 km (620 miles) from his family home in Adiyaman.

With no news of her family’s fate, she took a four-hour bus ride, a two-hour flight, and more than a two-hour drive back to her hometown to find out if they were alive.

To his relief, he arrived to find that his siblings and parents had survived. But 20 other relatives were dead.

“When I arrived, I saw that a large part of the city was destroyed and there was no safe place for people to find shelter,” she said.

“The only relief I got was seeing that almost all of my [immediate] family was safe. Wasn’t sure before I got there.

“When I found them, they were all in their pajamas and that’s how I knew they had run away with nothing. We all froze.”

He said he could hear the sounds of some collapsing buildings, but that rescue efforts had largely been left to city residents.

“People are just waiting helplessly to reach their loved ones under the rubble. We need support here as soon as possible.”

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